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Vehicle ordinance sparks debate

1/17/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@gmail.com

A local business owner clashed with the Hays City Commission at its work session Thursday over an ordinance.

City staff cited Chris Miller, owner of Auto Tech, by mail Oct. 31 for violating a rule by having inoperable vehicles on his properties at 600 and 602 Vine for more than 30 days, according to the city's report. Miller called officials Nov. 6 and said his business will have inoperable vehicles on site until they are fixed.

Miller received a letter Dec. 13 stating he had 10 days to resolve the issue or the city would initiate an abatement process and fine him. The ordinance allows business owners to store inoperable vehicles in a building or screen them from view.

Miller was given 10 days to appeal and appear before city officials. The owner attended the work session with approximately 20 members of the business community.

Miller said the process "seems a shot at me," and the scope of the ordinance was not practical.

"How can somebody sit down and put an ordinance in place that prevents somebody that's in a business of repairing vehicles from having damaged vehicles on their property?" Miller said.

The owner's building is full of possessions from a late friend's estate, so he cannot house the vehicles, he said. One of the vehicles belongs to a customer, and the others are part of a personal project.

"What do I do with this '65 GMC and those pickup beds that are out there?" Miller said. "These are all parts that are part of a restoration project for a pickup that my grandpa bought brand new at O'Loughlin Chevrolet right here in Hays in 1964. That is irreplaceable, OK. I don't want it sitting outside; it just happens to be."

The city should grant commercial properties special consideration, he said.

"We, as business owners, should be allowed some leeway to run our business, to try to turn a profit and do what we think is right for our business without worrying about being picked on by our city officials," Miller said.

The conflict has affected his business. The owner's fleet accounts include ambulances, Coca-Cola, AT&T, farms and oil companies.

"It has cost me money to own that business the last couple of days because I have been zero productive because I've been dealing with trying to find a solution to this," he said.

Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV said he understands Miller's plight because he faces tough regulations in his rental housing business. Others who abuse loopholes in rules and cause problems spurred similar ordinances, Schwaller said.

"Because of a few bad apples, I have to follow rules that are very stringent as well," Schwaller said.

Mayor Kent Steward said everyone needs to remember the ordinance serves to protect the people of Hays.

"There's a third entity, and that is, however you want to define it, a neighbor, the community as a whole," Steward said.

The commission might table the vote next week.

Other commission news:

* Another vehicle abatement is on the docket. An inoperable vehicle is at 412 W. Eighth, and the property's owners have not responded to the city's efforts to communicate with them. The owners are Stanley and Janice Streit, Osborne.

* The commission will consider adding a third tier of admission prices to its pool facilities for those 18 and older. A ticket into Hays Aquatic Park would cost $4, and one for Wilson Pool would be $3. Those between the ages of 3 and 17 still will pay $3 at the aquatic park and $2 at the pool, and children younger than 3 are free.

* Overhauling the fee structure at Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course will be on the agenda. The change would make the tournament greens fee $15 for each golfer.

* The city commission will consider adding a $10 junior golf greens fee at the course for golfers 17-years-old and younger.